60th Anniversary: The changing role of the photojournalist

Published On: Sep 24 2013 02:15:33 PM CDT
History of photojournalism

Dennis Decker, Director of News Operations at Channel 12, has seen things change in his 38 years as a photojournalist. 

"If you don't like change, this isn't the business to be in," said Decker. "This one of the first industries that seeks out technology."

Decker said while many industries are leery of change, broadcast typically steps up to the plate. 

"We want change, to move forward," said Decker. "We want technology that will get us news faster, get it on the air faster, get it on-line faster." 

When Channel 12 first went on the air in 1953, photojournalists went out each day with their 16 mm cameras. They filmed the scene and asked questions about what happened. Then they hurried back to the station, hours before the evening news, because the film had to be processed in a chemical bath before it could be run on air.

"The advent of the one-man-band was originally how news was gathered in this market," said Decker. "A reporter was his own photographer. You gathered the story, you came back and wrote and edited the story, voiced it and put it on the air."

But soon the idea of a photographer and reporter team developed, each bringing an important piece of the story to the viewer at home.

Later in the 1980's video cameras came to the Wichita TV market. It became easier to use video for breaking news but the original cameras were physically demanding, weighing about 50 pounds.

Today, digital technology has revolutionized the broadcast world again. 

"In the last 5 years, there has been an advent of smaller and smaller cameras and the quality has improved," said Decker. "Now you can actually shoot HD on a camera that weights 5 pounds and it's broadcast quality."

These light cameras have created a shift back to the one-man-band for some reporters but photojournalists still play a key role in telling the news.

But what hasn't changed since the early years of television is power of pictures to tell the story. Video gives the audience the chance to see the scene or interview subject for themselves and to make up their own mind about what's going on.

KWCH photojournalists shoot in blizzards, tornadoes and 100 degree temperatures. They stand for hours at court proceedings, taping and live streaming trials. They set up lights, wireless microphones and search for the best shot with the goal of getting the viewer to connect with the story.

But the long hours and physical demands of the job pay off as photojournalists serve the community as educators and watchdogs.

"We tell people things that they want to hear and sometimes things that they don't want to hear," said Decker. "I think people have to be exposed to all things in their society in order to get the whole picture of what's going on."
Today, immediacy is driving news. Cell phone photos and videos are sent back as soon as someone arrives on the scene. Decker said it takes teamwork between the technology department, reporters, photojournalists and producers to send and post or air new images as soon as they come into the station.